July 13, 2005

Pyractomena borealis

A few weeks ago on the subway I overheard a lady say there are no fireflies in Brooklyn. The comment bounced around my head. It's the type of thing I remember. Sad. Then a few nights ago when lying next to my son, I noticed his eyes wander beyond me followed by utter rapture. A light on our phone was blinking. Voicemail. Each blink threw orange light onto the walls and to his unpolluted brain it was a vision somewhere between beauty and magic. This got me to thinking about fireflies again. When I was a kid we lived on the edge of the forest. At twilight on hot summer nights the fireflies would come. First one, then another, and then suddenly hundreds even thousands. Sometimes they would cluster in balls moving together through the trees in a strange and beautiful orgy of activity throwing dim shadows in all directions. The light was like a siren song, but we knew better than to cross the barbed wire into the the forest. We had heard too many stories. With fog the shadows were spooky and would send us running home, but fog was rare. Most nights we would draw them out with penlights following the pattern of their blinks. Strays would wander toward us over the grass flying low and slow only to be caught and smeared like warpaint on our faces and chests. Others would go into bottles that would sit by our beds lighting the ceiling late into the night to be released first thing in the morning. How could we have known then that time would be so short because in that moment time seemed endless. And these thoughts made me sad for my son who I realized had not yet seen fireflies and as a city kid might know these pleasures only as exotic rarities when visiting the countryside.

Tonight Jenn was at her writing workshop and I was in charge of putting the boy to sleep. He was fidgety so I decided to sit out on the stoop for a while with him in my arms. I was watching the empty taxis returning to Manhattan, but his focus was in the tree above. And then that look. Before I turned my head somehow I knew what I would see. Fireflies--a couple of them, blinking around, oblivious to the streets below. I watched them for a very long time and perhaps if you had passed by my face would have that look as well, for it wasn't just our tree, it was all the trees on the block. The night grew darker, the fireflies glowed brighter. And then one came towards me. Without a moments hesitation I reached up and caught it, my hand in a hollow fist. I could see the light coming between my fingers as it crawled around looking for escape. I brought my hand down to open it in front of my son's face and watch his reaction, but he had already absorbed the moment. His eyes were closed. I thought of waking him, but no. He had crossed into the river of sleep and that was that. I opened my hand.

I wanted it to be known for the record: Brooklyn has plenty of fireflies. Lady, you were wrong.

posted at 02:35 AM by raul

Filed under: daily life

TAGS: brooklyn (17) fireflies (5) overheard (1) subway (13)


07/13/05 05:25 AM

What a wonderful story about the joys of childhood, lovely memories ánd the future of another child!

07/13/05 11:58 AM

We had fireflies over on our front steps too (Gowanas), but if you really want to see them you have to sneak into Greenwood Cemetery at night. Spectacular!

07/13/05 03:18 PM

i grew up in san francisco and never saw a fire fly- until I was 16 and visited relatives on the east coast. I just moved to Brooklyn after 7 years in Manhattan and every night our garden is full of fire flies! They're so magical to me because as a kid I only saw them in movies and books! Yup, that woman on the subway was wrong!

07/13/05 08:35 PM

my favorite dad strikes again.

07/15/05 11:47 AM

I see it. I really see it! You paint a nice word picture. I'm in Manitoba and we have fireflies aplenty up here.

07/15/05 10:10 PM

it certainly does. i hope to have you guys over some time to see the ones we see while sitting on the back patio.

07/25/05 10:32 PM

oh, lovely stories, thanks.

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